Dairy-free in early pregnancy

The challenges of feeding a dairy-free baby can seem overwhelming. We felt completely at sea trying to sort out what we were supposed to do about formula milk, weaning foods and even what you should eat/not eat as a breastfeeding mother, given the transmission of milk protein into breast milk.

Looking after yourself

In the first few months of your pregnancy, your priority when it comes to food tends to be what stays down (at least it was for me!). If you are completely dairy-free, you must try to keep up your calcium intake as it is your bones and teeth that will suffer if your calcium levels fall even before those of the foetus. Make sure that you use soya/rice milks that are fortified with calcium. This isn’t anywhere near as much of a problem these days as it used to be, since most milks are routinely fortified now, but do check that your usual one is. If it isn’t, it’s probably worth considering changing and not just because you’re pregnant. Low calcium levels in youth and middle age can seriously affect your bones and osteoporosis is not something you want to line up for later years.

If you’re dairy-free because you’re lactose intolerant, you could try Lactofree milk, cheese and yoghurt. Two of my lot fall into this category and use Lactofree all the time. It is real milk without the lactose, so you get the calcium dose you would from normal milk without the agony-inducing lactose. It works for us, as does the cheese (although the cheese is decidedly rubbery in texture). The yoghurt is also fine. Not special, but perfectly edible and frankly rather better than some (though not all) of the non-dairy substitutes out there. However, the cream cheese we’ve had problems with. I know of at least two other families as well who have had lactose exposure symptoms after eating it, so we now avoid it. The ice cream, however, is delicious!

If you’re dairy-free because you’re allergic to casein (milk protein), then obviously Lactofree is no use to you. However, this isn’t really a problem on the calcium front as most non-dairy milk substitutes (as the industry so appetisingly calls them) have higher levels of added calcium than real milk.

For some women, the first few months of a pregnancy can be very hard. What is known to the world as “morning sickness” can take over your life completely, making you either feel sick or actually vomit at any (or indeed every) time of the day and night. If this is you, don’t get too hung up on the precise content of what you can eat. You reach a point when some nutrition is better than none! It shouldn’t last for ever – although it will feel like it at the time. For most women, after 20 weeks, things improve. If you are worried, speak to your midwife. She will be able to tell whether you are in need of medical help, or whether you are coping (albeit only just!).

If you are considering taking calcium tablets, then it is probably worth finding a brand which includes vitamin D. Not only is calcium absorption affected by vitamin D levels, the health department advice now is for all pregnant women to take vitamin D to stave off the risk of rickets in your baby. In this country we rarely get enough exposure to sunlight to make as much vitamin D as we need, so it is worth considering for all of us but it’s particularly important if your skin is dark. Talk to your midwife about what’s right for you.

2 comments to Dairy-free in early pregnancy

  • Cate

    Your article mentions substituting with soya products. I am 7 weeks pregnant and have just come off them as friends advised me they are not good at all (esp soya milk as it isn’t fermented). I’ve gone onto coconut and almond milk now and feel much better.


  • Glad you’re feeling better. It’s very much a matter of personal choice which milk substitute you use. These days, there are so many lovely almond, coconut and rice milks that you’re not limited any more. It can be worth avoiding soya if there’s a strong family history of allergies, as soya is a known allergen. If you’re suffering really badly with “morning sickness”, it’s very much a matter of finding what stays down! Good luck with your pregnancy.

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